Cody Williams is Here to Help | The Prospect Overview
Colorado's 6'8" freshman Cody Williams checks a lot of important boxes for a modern wing! Maxwell gives a full breakdown of his game! PLUS: Drake vs. Saint Louis in the MMGOTW and Quick Hits!
Feature: Cody Williams is Here to Help
The Helper’s Helper
My wife and I don’t give our two-year-old daughter much screen time, but when she does watch something, her go-to pick is Paw Patrol. It’s about a boy, Ryder, and his group of dogs. Each of the dogs has a special set of skills and a vehicle to go with it. For example, Marshall is a Dalmatian who drives a fire truck and can use his hydro-blaster to shoot water at stuff. Our daughter’s favorite episode is season ten’s “Pups Save Their Digi-Tal Friends.” The premise is this—Adventure Bay (that’s the city where Paw Patrol takes place, for you uncultured swine who haven’t watched the entire series) gets two robots, Digi and Tal, to help their residents with day-to-day tasks. However, the robots accidentally overload their schedule.
As a result, Tal creates a “Helper’s Helper,” an additional robot, to get them caught up. However, the Helper’s Helper sucks, partially because Tal set its “speed” setting to the highest level possible. As a result, the Helper’s Helper is an out-of-control buffoon who does everything too fast, breaking dishes that he’s supposed to clean and spraying paint everywhere instead of neatly applying it to a boat. Thankfully, the Paw Patrol eventually disabled this reckless robot.
Because I’m a Draft Sicko, I immediately equated this episode to basketball. Generally, you’ve got the main guy that is supposed to get things done. That’s the helper. Then, you’ve got the secondary playmakers who are supposed to alleviate that player’s burden—those dudes are the helper’s helper. The NBA is a star’s league, and those are the players who receive the most attention. But even in a heliocentric system, one player can’t do it all by himself. While the star may tap the first domino in the line, it’s often up to other players to keep those dominos falling after the initial advantage has been created.
The Helper’s Helper is important in this instance. If he’s sped up and out of control, it could spell disaster in the form of turnovers or lost advantages. If he’s too slow, defenses have time to recover, the offense has to go back to square one with less time on the shot clock. Secondary players must be poised and composed, but still mentally sharp enough to act in a hurry. Colorado’s 6’8” freshman Cody Williams has the makings of a great Helper’s Helper.
Through seven games, Williams is scoring 14 PPG on an outrageous 62.3% from the field. A big part of that is that Williams puts a lot of pressure on the basket. Per Synergy, 38.5% of his halfcourt shots are coming at the rim. That puts him in a similar ballpark to guys like Scottie Barnes, Paolo Banchero, and Jaylen Brown during their one-and-done seasons. At 6’8” and 190 pounds, he’s far from being the physical force that any of those guys were in college. The weight isn’t a huge concern for me, as at 19 years old, Williams has plenty of time to get stronger. Plus, what Williams lacks in size right now, he’s been able to make for with wiggle, shiftiness, and creativity. That’s why he’s not only getting to the rim a ton, but why he’s succeeded there—he’s shooting 66.7% at the rim in the halfcourt so far this season.
In a ball screen scenario, Williams is wise beyond his years for a player his height. He can use his shoulders to manipulate the on-ball defender prior to the screen. He’ll reject screens or re-use them, making him hard to decipher. He’s further aided by his fluidity. While he’s not the fastest guy in the world, Williams changes directions with ease. What burst he does have (and he’s far from devoid of it) is accentuated by his knack for changing speeds and toying with pace. Williams isn’t a “break guys down off the dribble” level ball-handler, but he’s great at keeping his dribble alive. It’s a helpful skill that it allows him to counter, and it also prevents dribble pickups where he gets swarmed. When he brings all of these tools together, he has a myriad of ways to get inside.
In a spot-up setting, the challenges are a little bit different. Oftentimes, the defense is already moving, and Williams won’t have the ability to use his pace and setups. Still, because he’s a razor-sharp thinker, Williams succeeds here, too. The first thing Williams understands is what the defense is giving him. If there’s a clear driving angle, he’ll take it. But where Williams also thrives is that like a judo player, he understands his opponent’s momentum and will use that against him. If a player is charging from his left, he’ll go back at their left, getting his man off-balance. This forces the defender to recover, and either turn and chase or cross their feet as he gets past them.
Williams can function as a cutter, too. His awareness is strong, allowing him to identify when his man is ball-watching and when he has a lane to the basket. He’s an active off-ball player who doesn’t just stand and wait for his turn to touch the ball. He’ll use his ability to change speeds and direction to his advantage in order to get backdoor. Plus, he can act as a lob target thanks to his length and vertical pop.
The icing on the cake for all of this, though, is that Williams has outstanding touch. He’s capable of finishing with both his left and right hand. The rock comes softly out of his hands. If he doesn’t get the cleanest look at the basket, he’ll find the best angle to kiss it off the glass or simply float the ball above the defender. He’s also coordinated enough to contort his body and still get the finish. When adding his touch to his slew of ways to get to the basket, there is a lot to like. As a secondary playmaker, he’ll need to run the occasional pick-and-roll and operate as a second-side attacker. It’s beyond encouraging to see a 6’8” freshman thrive in those areas so early in the season. Williams is going to find ways to get good looks and convert them at a high level.
Playmaking for Others
Cody Williams is currently averaging 2.0 assists per game to 2.0 turnovers per game with an AST% of 13.5. Given that he’s more of a secondary guy for the Buffaloes (21.9 USG%, third among guys who play real minutes), these are really solid numbers for a forward, especially given that he’s only a freshman.
While Williams hasn’t been a stellar rebounder this year (which is understandable given the rebounding Colorado gets from their other positions), he does have the ability to grab and go in transition. His savvy and floor mapping make it so that he always knows where his teammates are and where they are going. Even when operating at top speeds, he’s able to place the ball on the money for lobs and finishes. This holds true in the halfcourt. His post entries are sharp. When he’s driving downhill, his eyes are up. He can skip it out of his dribble and thread the ball through small openings. Williams sees more than just the easy, first read, too, and can deliver longer, accurate passes when he finds an opening.
Oftentimes, younger players who have this type of juice can get caught up in themselves. They’ll get too forceful trying to penetrate, get too cute with their deliveries, or overextend themselves trying to make difficult passes. At 19 years old, Williams already has a level of poise, maturity, and savvy that many his age lack. He limits his mistakes and plays within himself while still bringing genuine value and creation upside. That’s the stuff secondary playmakers are made out of.
The Shooting Question
Let’s start with the good news—Cody Williams is shooting an electric 60% from behind the three-point line. Sounds great, right? That’s the opposite of a problem! Time to move him up to the number one spot on our board! But in the words of the legendary Lee Corso…
While Williams is connecting on a high percentage of his threes, he’s taking very few of them—just 2.9 per 100 possessions. It’s not the end of the world—there are forwards who’ve been gun-shy in college, but still stuck around the NBA long-term. Grant Williams is probably the biggest low-volume to high-volume success story, both others have become decent enough to command respect. Rui Hachimura, Herb Jones, and Pascal Siakam aren’t trigger-happy from long range, but they won’t totally kill their team’s spacing. Jalen Johnson’s three-point attempt rate is still low, but he was hitting them prior to his injury. Heck, Derrick Jones Jr. is suddenly a knockdown guy at age 26. There are still your Anthony Gill’s and Jae’Sean Tate’s of the world who don’t get over that hump, but the volume issue doesn’t make Williams a lost cause.
Mechanically, there is some work to be done. His base is pretty narrow, and sometimes his knees are almost knocking together. Rather than bringing the ball straight up, he can push it out before bringing it back to his face prior to the release. Still, it looks the same attempt after attempt. Even when Williams has a hand in his face or a defender closing out hard, he doesn’t rush the movement or change how he launches. I don’t think he’s ready to be a high-volume, knockdown guy. But given how confident and seamless the shot looks when he does take it, there’s reason to believe.
Williams has been really solid on the defensive end. He does the fundamental things well, like always monitoring both man and ball. His movement patterns like comfortable and natural. There’s a high level of discipline to his game. When he closes out, he still maintains his balance, and rarely will he get suckered by a fake. His awareness of rotations and his communication stand out on film. When he’s in his stance, he uses his long arms and footwork to either contain players or funnel them into inconvenient places on the court.
There are two areas I’d like to see Williams improve. The first is consistency with his stance. He can be too upright and narrow, and when he is, that’s when players tend to take advantage of him. The second thing I’d like to see is more playmaking out of Williams. I’m not going to advocate for reckless gambling, but given his size and feel, his STL% of 1.7 and BLK% of 1.2 leave me wanting more—he’s almost disciplined to a fault. He has moments where he tips passes and gets into lazy passes. He can make a weakside rim rotation and swat a shot at the rim. Williams has the length and intellect to make plays off the ball, and I want to see it more often.
There are things Cody Williams needs to work on. While he’s an excellent transition player, he’s very transition-oriented for now, leaving questions about what he can do in the halfcourt of an NBA game. He’s long and a good athlete, but he’s thin and not a great one, which makes his role a bit more complicated if his jump shot doesn’t become a consistent, effective part of his repertoire. He can keep his handle alive, and it’s functional, but it’s not something that will be an immediate breakdown weapon at the next level.
I get all of that. And I don’t want to say “I don’t care,” but I do want to say that I’m still buying Cody Williams stock. He’s 6’8”, sharp as a tack, and composed beyond his years. When things have gotten tough for the Buffs at times, he’s been the guy to put the team on his back. Even without the threat of a jump shot, he’s found a way to get inside and score. His playmaking instincts are sublime for someone his size. He has NBA physical tools and an NBA mind.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the 2024 NBA Draft is wide open. Even at the very top of the draft, teams are going to have to bet on something. A bet I’d feel comfortable making is on a 6’8” guy who scores efficiently. Someone who plays selflessly. A dude who has the athletic traits of a pro. The player who, despite his relative lack of experience, manages to outsmart opponents on a consistent basis. I’m going to bet on a guy like Cody Williams. Through his finishing, second-side playmaking, and work rate, he’ll make life easier for his teammates. He seems like the type of player who will put in the work to get his jump shot where it needs to be. Sure, his role may not be perfectly clear right now, but I know one thing—he’s going to do whatever he can to help his team win. Even if he doesn’t end up being the go-to guy for his team, he’ll be a fantastic helper’s helper.
Mid-Major Game of the Week
Folks, the Sickos did it again. They picked a fantastic MMGOTW that went down to the wire. This week, Drake made a big second half run to edge out Saint Louis, 75-69.
The biggest draft name here is Tucker DeVries, who I covered during 2022’s No Stone Unturned series and wrote a separate feature about last season. I’ve been a fan and believer of the 6’7” junior for a long time. In this game, the shot didn’t fall. He scored 10 points on 12 shots. Throughout this season, DeVries has been icy from three, shooting 31.0% from long range. Despite this, I’m not out on DeVries as an NBA prospect, and this game was a prime example of why—he’s doing more to impact the game without scoring than he ever has before.
DeVries finished the game with 10 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks. He was constantly putting in work on the glass. He’s also initiating more of the offense again after taking a step back from that role last season, and he made some excellent finds, including a live dribble sling to Kevin Overton on a backdoor cut. He generated multiple steals from strips with his digs and weakside rotations. When the Billikens tried to post him up with bigger players, he was strong enough to hold his ground, and he even swatted a shot on one such possession.
The outside jumper hasn’t been there for DeVries this season, and that’s been disappointing. But I’ve never felt better about the rest of his game than I do now. He’s gotten quicker while maintaining his strength. He’s doing a tremendous job of defending within a team concept. The flashes he’d made as a passer as a freshman are popping back up with greater frequency. DeVries is also shooting 60.6% from two this year, a career high. I buy the shot—he’s been good from beyond the college line and made tough ones from deep consistently over his two prior seasons. Don’t let the percentage from deep fool you. DeVries still has an NBA future.
Let’s circle back to the previously mentioned Kevin Overton. The 6’5” freshman has been getting buckets at a high clip for the Bulldogs this season and could be one to watch. He’s posting 14.4 PPG on 51.1/35.2/76.0 splits and scored 21 points on 14 shots in this one. Overton has a quick lefty stroke that he gets off in a hurry. He also displayed nice touch inside and a smooth pullup jumper. From an NBA standpoint, there’s a fair, “and what else?” question to be asked about his game, as he doesn’t do much outside of scoring yet. Still, his efficiency and size give him some great building blocks to develop his game going forward.
On the SLU side, I was here for Gibson Jimerson. The 6’5” redshirt junior (it is his fifth year of college hoops, though—that’s college hoops in 2023 for you) has long been one of the best shooters in college hoops. He’s a career 40.6% from deep and 84.3% from the charity stripe. In the first half, he was red hot. In the second, he cooled off, but he did hit a big three to cut Drake’s lead with 47 seconds to go. He ended the night with 23 points on 17 shots and 4-for-8 shooting from long range. He’s a master of coming off screens. Jimerson uses misdirection, tucks himself behind picks well, and generally finds ways to get clean looks while making his man take inconvenient paths. In this game, he hit a three from NBA range and another triple off a buttery stepback.
The rest of his game can leave something to be desired. He’s bulked up to 215 pounds and his defense, while uninspiring, is the best it’s ever been. When matched up with DeVries, he worked hard to stick with him and stayed connected around off-ball screens. He had some nice passes downhill, but he desperately needs to improve his deceleration and counter game. Jimerson had six turnovers in this game, and a few came on drives where he coughed it up after being unable to slow himself down.
I’m not in on Jimerson, but I wouldn’t say he has no chance. He’s not a shrimp, he competes, and few others can shoot it like he does. Still, the rest of his game is pretty bare outside of his jumper. Most specialists who do click are a little bigger than Jimmerson, bring more athleticism to the table, or both. He’s the type of guy who will likely get a Portsmouth invite when he’s auto-eligible, and how he fares during the pre-draft process will determine if he’s an Exhibit-10 guy or not.
-I continue to be enamored with Baylor freshman Ja’Kobe Walter, who I think has a real case for the number one pick. The 6’5” guard has always been a dynamite shooter and shotmaker. Though not a spectacular athlete or the greatest separator, he’s pressured the rim at a higher clip than sweet shooters like Devin Vassell and Desmond Bane during their pre-draft season. His confidence and swagger make him seem like a joy to play with. Defensively, hustling and fighting around screens. But recently, the passing flashes he displayed at the high school level have started to actualize more consistently. Whether it’s a ball screen sling or .5 skip pass, he’s making them. His candidacy for the top pick should be seen as legitimate and shouldn’t go understated.
-Milan Momcilovic might have one of the tougher “should I stay or should I go?” decisions come the season’s end. The 6’8” Iowa State freshman might not be the most athletic, toolsy forward around, but he can score. He’s got a fantastic stroke that looks great off movement and a gorgeous mid-post fallaway for when he can’t get an easy look. His 45.1% mark from deep on 10.8 attempts per 100 possessions is sure to raise eyebrows across front offices. While he’s held back by his movement skills on defense, he’s engaged and constantly communicating. At his size, and with his jumper, that may be enough to get him over the hump. Movement shooters don’t tend to come around at his height too often.
-Staying within the Cyclones program, junior Keshon Gilbert went on a heater against Iowa on Thursday, dropping 25 points on 16 shots and tallying six assists to three turnovers. Gilbert was confident on the trigger, hitting two transition threes. At 38.1% from deep on the year, upping the volume (currently attempting only 4.5 per 100 possessions) will be key for building his argument. He also looked poised as a playmaker out of ball screens in this game. At 6’4”, he’s already a tough, physical guard who can defend. Taking and making more threes could get him into the mix.
-Arthur Kaluma had a big outing against Villanova this past week, posting 26 points on 13 shots while grabbing nine boards and tallying five assists. The burly 6’7” junior really impressed me with his downhill game in that one. There are still times when he gets too sped up as a processer, passer, and decision-maker. But in this game, he made several slick and poised drives, weaving through traffic before getting himself a clean look at the cup. He went 3-for-3 from deep and looked confident in each attempt. He’s always been a high work rate guy, but when he marries his energy to his craft as he did on Tuesday, he’s even more intriguing. In an open 2024 class, don’t look past Kaluma if he can continue to actualize his upside.
-I want to give some love to UConn’s “less heralded” prospects. First off, let’s start with Tristen Newton, who has been outstanding this year. Listed at 6’5” with a near 6’7” wingspan, Newton has good size for a modern point guard. He’s always been a good table setter, and that’s stayed true this year, as he’s posting a career-high 6.1 APG to only 2.3 TOV. He’s using his size to get in on the glass, and his 7.6 RPG actually leads the team! Newton has been more assertive and confident in his three-ball, taking it from further away and pulling off the dribble more often. He’s also gotten way better at pressuring the rim and finishing. Last year, 26.0% of his halfcourt shots came at the rim and he made 47.5% of them. This year, 33.7% of his halfcourt shots are at the rim, and he’s made 64.3% of them. He’s been more poised at the rim, taking better angles and shying away from other bodies less. If he keeps it up, he may hear his name called on draft night.
-I’ve long suspected Cam Spencer will eventually get himself an NBA cup of coffee. The 6’4” guard is as nasty a competitor as you’ll find. While not a great vertical athlete, he runs hard and slides well, and his hands are quick. That’s enabled him to post a 3.5 STL% over the past four seasons. He’s also a career 40.7% from deep and a capable movement shooter. Spencer has never been great at the rim, but his shooting, decision-making, and defense give him a puncher’s chance.
-While Donovan Clingan’s foul trouble woes have been frustrating for some draft fanatics, they’ve been a blessing for Samson Johnson. The 6’10” junior big man has great tools for a modern big. He slides his feet well when switched down, and folks, he can JUMP. His bounce and catch radius make him an excellent lob target, and despite only playing 18.2 MPG, Johnson has registered the third most dunks in college basketball this season. He’s proven himself to be a capable rim protector and play finisher. Johnson could get himself into the draft mix before it’s all said and done.
-I continue to be enamored with New Mexico freshman JT Toppin. At 6’9”, he has everything you could ask for defensively in a modern four-man. He protects the rim (1.8 BPG), uses his length to generate steals (1.3 SPG), and has the power to guard up, and the agility to guard down. He’s never out of place or uncomfortable, and he thinks the game well on that end. Offensively, he’s cleaning up on the glass and putting back easy ones. While his jumper hasn’t been a weapon (28.6% from three on 0.8/game), he attempted three triples and made two of them against UC Santa Barbara this week. That’s going to be the swing skill for Toppin. If he can be respectable from behind the arc, he already has NBA physical tools and the defensive acumen required for the next level. He’s a longer-term guy to watch.